In and effort to bring national attention to the plight of immigrant women that are seeking asylum in the United States to escape domestic violence in their own countries, “Fleeing Violence, Finding Prison: A Panel Discussion of the Treatment of Migrant Women in Flight from Domestic Violence in the U.S. Immigration System” was recently held at the University of Arizona. Funded by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, the panel focused on the conditions and amount of time that immigrant women and their children are facing in detention centers as they wait for their cases to be heard.
According to panel host, Nina Rabin, a University of Arizona law professor, women and their children are typically spending more than a year in detention centers as they await a trial on their asylum case. In just one year, more than 68,000 families were caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally by the Border Patrol in Texas. Many of these families are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The U.S. government increased its ability to detain immigrant families by opening three detention facilities with a capacity for holding 1,000 individuals.
While the response helps those fleeing dangerous and violent situations in their home country, being held in the detention facilities for extended periods of time leave many of the women feeling as if they traded violence for prison. Ironically, as more women became aware of the decision to possibly grant asylum in the U.S. to those escaping domestic violence in their home country, the numbers of families illegally crossing the border grew. This surge increased the demand on the court system, thus increasing the amount of time that the women spend in detention awaiting their trial.
In February of this year, a federal judge responded to the situation by ordering a temporary injunction prohibiting the detention of immigrant mothers and children seeking asylum. The action is meant to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants entering the country and allow the courts to catch up with the asylum cases already backed up in the United States. While this will help limit the number of refugees added to the current detention facilities, it still does not address the conditions endured by those already detained.
House Democrats Continue to Seek Justice for Those Seeking Asylum
Earlier this month, two California House Democrats called on the Department of Homeland Security to improve conditions for women and children who have legitimate cases for asylum. Referring to previous years where refugees were permitted to live with a family member already in the United States while awaiting trial, the representatives proposed that the U.S. return to this system for those detainees who should be reclassified as refugees. One of the representatives compared the U.S. treatment of immigrant women in the U.S. to those from Syria seeking asylum in Jordan. After a recent visit to similar detention centers in Jordan, she claimed that the Syrian women there are treated with much more respect and are processed much quicker than women from South America detained in the U.S.
Through conversations and investigations into the treatment of detainees, representatives claimed that families detained for long periods of time say their children have threatened suicide if they were not soon released. The jail-like conditions are difficult for adults to adhere to, but for children, the environment can be very stressful. Some of the detainees reported that the water supply in one facility was not fit for consumption, so the women had to purchase water in bottles at a cost of $1.00 each. Limited funds meant that the water had to be rationed, often not meeting the nutritional needs of their children.
Immigration reform has been a heated controversy in recent years, and the issue of women and children being detained in detention centers for extended periods of time creates even more hostility. As lawmakers seek to reform the immigration issues, immigrants can hope that these extended detentions and long delays improve.
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